"All Hallow's Even" is upon us or, if you
don't speak Olde English, Halloween. October 31 is a day kids love
to celebrate, as do many grown-ups. After all, it involves dressing
up in a costume and pretending to be someone, or something, else
and, then there is candy - lots of candy.
The celebration of Halloween has long been woven into
the fabric of our culture. Most Americans can remember selecting,
or making, a Halloween costume and going trick-or-treating. Many of
us still hold fond memories of bags full of candy being gathered as
we ran door to door holding out our container to be filled with
those delicious morsels - detesting that one person in the
neighborhood who always insisted on giving out "healthy"
treats - and at the end of the evening emptying all of it into a
big pile to cull out our least favorite brands and then negotiate
trades with our fellow trick-or-treaters.
As we got older there were parties to attend, perhaps
accompanied by innocent prank or two. But, the reality is,
Halloween is about much more than just costumes and candy and it is
the other elements, along with its origin, that trouble some
people. For example, some pranks/"tricks" were not so
innocent and brought out a "dark-side" to Halloween.
Particularly notable was during the late 1960s/early '70s when
hazardous items began to show up in some of the treats given to
children. Another concern that has been raised, particularly by
some Christians, is the belief there is a spiritual danger that is
inherent to Halloween.
Despite these deterrents, the evidence indicates
Halloween continues to be a significant event in American culture.
The National Retail Federation (NRF) estimates that Americans will
spend 18 percent more on Halloween in 2010 than in 2009. And, this
is in the midst of an economic turndown. The NRF estimates include
Americans spending an average of $66.28 (Gallup found the average
spent on Halloween in 2007 was $52) on Halloween related items.
Recently, I received an email from a national pet
store chain offering 50% off "pet" Halloween costumes. If
the fact that there is, apparently, a market for Halloween costumes
for animals is not disturbing enough - this email offered the same
discount on Halloween treats and toys for pets (I find myself conjuring
up images of dogs and cats in clown suits and ballerina outfits
going door to door with a little plastic pumpkin held in their
mouth) and also offered matching costumes for owners, so you can
dress like your pet (only in America).
Clearly, one thing Americans are not buying into, as
it relates to Halloween, is the idea that one should not
participate in it. When Gallup polled Americans in 2006, they found
that 64% said they "usually" pass out Halloween treats to
children (when you add those who "sometimes" pass out
treats, this jumps to 83%); a percentage that has been consistent
for several decades. For example, a 1999 poll, Gallup found 69
percent of Americans planned to give out Halloween treats - the
exact same percentage found in a 1985 ABC/Washington Post
From the amounts being spent on Halloween, it would appear
that Americans have worked out any anxieties they may have had
about hazardous materials being placed in the treats. But, what
about the religious objections to Halloween - how strongly held are
When Gallup polled Americans about this in 2006, they
found that only 11 percent objected to Halloween based on religious
beliefs. Among those who regularly attend church services,
including Evangelicals, 27% objected. Clearly, the overwhelming
majority of Americans, including Christians, do not oppose the
activities traditionally associated with Halloween.
As in the past, this year will find many, including
Christians, who hold or attend Halloween parties and/or take their
children trick-or-treating and many Churches will hold
festivals/celebrations as an alternative for Halloween. However,
while these will typically involve children in costumes and the
distribution of candy -lots of candy - Churches tend not to place
the "Halloween" label on them; preferring to give them
more acceptable titles, such as, "Fall Festivals".
However, the reality is, these events simply move the features most
often associated with Halloween on to the Church property - "a
rose by any other name", its detractors would claim..
Those who oppose Halloween as being inherently wicked
and evil, naturally find any celebration of Halloween by a
Christian as reprehensible. They would say, "The celebration
is rooted in occultism, is a Pagan holiday celebrated by witches,
and should be avoided by Christians".
Christians who participate in Halloween celebrations
counter, "It is all just in fun and no spiritual connection is
being made". Churches with "Fall Festivals" defend
them as being an appropriate alternative and an opportunity to make
a positive connection with those in their community who attend the
event. "People are going to celebrate this day so why not try
to capture it in a positive way", they might argue.
As is often true when Christians disagree over
cultural influences and practices, factions develop over whether or
not one should be involved in those things associated with the
celebration of Halloween. As is also true, in many cases, each side
has valid points to offer.
Is there an occult, or pagan, dimension to the origins
of Halloween? Certainly, there is. It is commonly agreed that, what
we recognize as Halloween, has its roots in ancient Britain in the
Celtic celebration of the Festival of Samhain, referring to the end
of summer. The pagan Celts believed that each year at the time of
Samhain the border between this world and the spirit world became
thin enough that spirits could pass through and enter this world.
Celts would prepare a place in their homes to welcome
deceased relatives whom they believed were good spirits and might
visit them from the other side. Some, in order to keep evil spirits
from also coming into their homes, appear to have adopted the
custom of wearing of masks and costumes to confuse those that were
Naturally, as with any good celebration, Samhain also
included food, which is integral to modern-day Halloween. Through the
years the other elements and traditions of Halloween that are
practiced today, such as jack-o-lanterns; bobbing for apples, etc.
would be added. Undeniably, many of them would also have their
roots in Paganism, or the occult.
The Church has long recognized this. And, just as
today, many in the Church sought alternatives, or tried to capture
the day in a different way. Long before "Fall Festivals"
the Church tried to give a more Christian emphasis to Halloween. In
fact, the Church's influence can be found in the very name itself,
a contraction of Hallow (Holy) E'en (Evening), which is what the
day before All Saints Day - a time to remember faithful Christians
of the past - was called. Protestants would later shift the
emphasis from celebrating Halloween on October 31 to the
celebration of Reformation Day, in recognition of the beginning of
the Protestant Reformation on that same date.
While Halloween has always had some association with
the supernatural - be it ghosts and goblins, or witches - it is
especially true in modern times. There has been a growing interest
in Wicca (witchcraft) in recent decades and those who practice
Wicca generally embrace Halloween as one of their high, holy days.
Some point to this as clear and undeniable evidence of a
religious/spiritual dimension to Halloween.
The debate as to whether Christians should participate
in Halloween, or not; the argument as to whether it is an
inherently evil day, or simply a secular celebration, is nothing
new. What does seem new is that it has become a much more
embittered battle. All too often, which side one chooses seems to
set the tone as to whether or not those of the opposing viewpoint
will accept you as a true follower of Christ - something that is,
unfortunately, true of many debates within the Church today.
However, where one stands on this issue is not nearly as important
as the effectiveness and humility with which we are able to discuss
our position with those who disagree.
Whether we want it to be or not, there is no denying
that Halloween is one of our nation's most popular celebrations.
And despite the evidence of an association with the supernatural
and it's identification with Wicca, it is clear that most Christians
and non-Christians do not have a problem with it and view it as
simply a celebration of the imagination. The overwhelming majority
of Americans do not associate it with the supernatural; they do not
celebrate it as a part of the practice of Wicca. That's reality. It
seems to me that our goal should not be to convince them otherwise
but to focus on creatively engaging them with the gospel.
I guess when it comes right down to it, I am
Halloween-neutral. I can see good points in both sides of the
argument. I think it is good to know the background of Halloween -
it is certainly interesting. I agree that Christians should not
involve themselves in occultism, or pagan ritual. But, if that is
our message it is severely lacking. Unfortunately, this is becoming
another case of the culture hearing more about what Christians are
against, than what we are for.
No matter how you and I feel about Halloween, the
culture is telling us they want candy. When they come to my door to
trick-or-treat, I can lecture them on the ills of candy, or I can
take care of their sweet tooth. In the same way, I can offer
something much more satisfying and substantial, as well - the sweet
aroma of the knowledge of Christ.
Whether you should gain this opportunity by giving
candy at your door, inviting a friend to a Church fall festival, or
convincing someone Halloween is pagan, is not my call. That's
between you and the Lord. When it gets right down to it, perhaps
the best thing I can do is to try and be more gracious and
encouraging with fellow believers as they work through this issue
and offer the hope of the gospel to those who do not know Christ.
We would do well to remember that, all too often, the
ones who get lost in Christians debating methodologies are
"the lost" - those who need to hear the gospel. Now, when
that happens, it is indeed a sad trick.
What do you think? Email your comments to: